Writing and a Busy Life? Four Tips for Making it Work.

February 8, 2012 | By | 28 Replies More

US Novelist Elizabeth S. Craig

I was recently talking on the phone to my mother and catching her up with our family’s schedule for the next few months—my kids’ activities, doctor and dental appointments, carpools, writing conferences, a talk I was giving at the college I’d attended, and my next deadline—I’m under contract for two books for two different series due in July.

My mother exclaimed, “I thought you said the first few months of 2012 were going to be quieter for you!”

I paused for a minute.

“They are quieter.  You should have seen how busy it was in the fall.”

We’ve all got lives like this (or, if you don’t, I’m envious!)  There’s never the perfect time to write that book.

The good news is that writing can fit tidily into a hectic schedule.

Here are four ideas for making it work:

Taking a look at those goals: Keeping our goals attainable is key to meeting them.  If we make goals that are more like challenges (I’ll write 3,000 words every day) then when we have a really busy day or a set-back of any kind, we set ourselves up for failure.  Instead, keeping a manageable goal that we can easily meet (either a daily or weekly goal) helps us rack up successes and stay motivated.

Taking pleasure in the process: When we’re looking at our writing as a chore, it’s easier to push it to the bottom of our to-do list.  When this happens to me, I try to remember what drew me to writing to begin with.  Sometimes I’ll reread my favorite books or revisit old brainstorming notebooks where I’d really been fired up with my writing.  Sometimes I just need to fall in love with my characters again and think about what makes them unique and fun to write.  It’s all about remembering the joy of creativity and my enjoyment in the process of artistic expression.

Hickory Smoked Homicide, a novel by North Carolina author Elizabeth S. Craig

Fitting Writing into a Quick Session: Making writing a habit means having it be almost automatic…when we have those few minutes of free time and automatically reach for our notebook.  For me, this dead time is in the carpool line outside my son’s high school. With even five extra minutes, we can make short lists that progress our WiP: ten interesting things about our protagonist, five details about our main setting, or ten alternate endings for our book.

Looking at our life through a creative lens is another way to fit writing into our day. Who are some of the characters we come across?  What bits of description or textured words do we discover at our office or as we run errands? Small notebooks or voice recorders are great for jotting down ideas.

Promoting our writing from a distance: Attending writing conferences, having book signings, and going on a book tours can be time consuming and expensive.  Many writers feel an obligation to squeeze personal appearances into a packed schedule.  It’s a way to promote your book and writing…but it’s not the only way to promote. And if it leaves you burned out, poorer, and out of writing time, then it may not be an effective way for you to build the platform recommended for today’s writers.

Consider, instead, using a timer and your favorite type of social media.  Could you blog twice a week?  Could you update your Facebook page each day or be active on Goodreads or Twitter? Set your timer or use a free online timer to make sure you don’t burn up too much of your writing time.

The nice thing about an online platform is that you’ve got the potential for reaching far more people for a fraction of the cost.  Social media is about making relationships and networking online—not direct sales. This indirect approach to getting your name and book better-known is also less stressful for writers.

How do you make time for writing or promo in your busy schedule? How do you keep the joy in your process?

Elizabeth’s latest book, Hickory Smoked Homicide, released November 1 2011.

Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder.

Writer’s Knowledge Base–the Search Engine for Writers

Twitter: @elizabethscraig


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Category: US American Women Writers

Comments (28)

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  1. Reagan Reynolds says:

    I have just recently invested in several small notebooks that I keep in my car, my bedside, my kitchen, even my bathroom. Once or twice a week I can collect them all and pour from them into my world of fiction. Being busy but dedicated is an art, and learning from such a motivated writer is very helpful. Thank you!

  2. Lovely piece, Elizabeth! I especially liked the first point: “Taking a look at those goals.” It’s so easy to over-aim (unrealistic goals) and set yourself up for stress and disappointment. It becomes a vicious circle.

  3. Great advice and a peek into how you do it, Elizabeth! One thing I admire most about you is your productivity. You manage to get so much done, be visible and still write. It’s amazing.

    Happy writing,


    • Thanks so much for coming by, Angela! And you do the same–active on Twitter and your blog, developing your writers’ thesaurus, and writing–I think you’ve figured out what works for you. 🙂

  4. Some great tips here. My problem is I’m TOO social. I thoroughly enjoy giving speeches, making presentations, teaching classes, and in general, doing anything that connects me with other people … like Blogger. I love writing, too, of course, but am easily led astray from editing, an essentially solitary pursuit, when a more social interaction is available.

    • I can feel really distracted by social media and just by things in my house that need to get done. Have you tried editing at a location where you don’t have WiFi? (Not that those are easy to find these days!) I’ll sometimes take my laptop to a diner out in the middle of nowhere, buy a meal (occasionally 2 meals! Depending how long I stay there), and really knock some stuff out. No distractions there, and I can sometimes find interesting characters to write about.

  5. Anne Martineau says:

    Thank you for those tips. I never would have thought of those. Getting back to writing after a LONG break. Toddler actually allows a few moments now. With four kids and a hubby, it gets hectic, but I’m happier when writing. Thank you so much for the timely encouragement!

  6. Hi Elizabeth,
    Good advice. To state the obvious, most writers are introverts and publicity-shy. So I admire anyone who manages it!

  7. Leanne says:

    I completely agree with you about social network–and it’s also makes connecting with readers possible when you’re shy.

  8. Nice post. Finding that balance when you have kids is always tough, especially when you try to fit marketing in there, too. I love the suggestion for using a timer when it’s time to hit the social media and blogging. They can be such time sucks, which sometimes keeps me away from logging on.

  9. Barbara says:

    Elizabeth, I’m so glad I read this. As a caregiver, I’m short on long blocks of time, but instead of giving up in frustration, using short free time I could accomplish something. Thanks for the tip.

  10. Chihuahua0 says:

    “With even five extra minutes, we can make short lists that progress our WiP: ten interesting things about our protagonist, five details about our main setting, or ten alternate endings for our book.”

    I really need to do this more often. Perhaps it might do wonders to my motivation.

    I’ll try to remember to Tweet this once I get back from school. Blame the filter. :p

    • Thanks so much for coming by! Give the list tip a go…I really have found it helpful. It’s not as grueling as writing a couple of pages on a busy day, but it progresses our plot or character development and moves us forward on our story! 🙂

  11. Jan Morrison says:

    Hi Elizabeth! All good plans. I keep a notebook on me at work and when clients don’t show (I see lots of young folks and they can be a bit flakey about time) I work on my one page synopsis or at the very least figure out how I can best use my time when I’m AT my computer. I’m also hungry for books that I read as research so keep them about too.

  12. Thanks so much for hosting Elizabeth!

    Elizabeth – I know all about having a busy schedule, and I so admire the way you handle everything. I’ve found that two things keep me sane. One is to write in small dollops of time. As you say, you can accomplish a lot in fifteen minutes. You can especially do that if you allow a draft to be a draft. Take the time for revising, editing and polishing later.

    The other thing I’ve found helps is having the tools handy to be flexible. Pen and paper, voice recorder and if you have it, a laptop or tablet computer, are all useful for writing wherever and whenever you can. Especially the pen and paper….

  13. Excellent tips, Elizabeth. I’m not much for in person appearances, which is why I focus more energy online.

  14. Thanks for hosting me today, Anora!

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